Bottom Line: An interactive storybook app with an old-fashioned paper book feel and beautiful illustrations. Provides narration in several languages which may appeal to children in multilingual households. Text may be too complex for toddlers.
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House that Jack Built by 4Kids multilingual learning, a division of MediaProfit is an interactive book with a bit of a difference from the norm - its focus is on multilingual learners. This cumulative rhyme is one of my favourites to use in the classroom - the meter flows nicely and it uses syntax that is not common in modern-day children's language but is easily understood in context. The version of the rhyme used in the app is a traditional one, but is missing the last verse as I am used to hearing it.
The illustrations by Michael Solovyev are hand-drawn with gentle colours and soft lines - this is not an app intended for vibrancy, but for an old-fashioned paper book feel. At the home page, you are greeted with Renaissance-type music and the option to listen to the book in English, French, Italian and Russian. This option is available on every page, so there is the opportunity to listen to each page first in one language and then in another if you or your child so desire. The navigation is logical - the book is linear and navigated with a forward/backward arrow, the narration is turned on/off by a speaker icon, and the extra features are contained in a pop- up menu that is available at all times at the bottom. Each page has a few simple animations, though it's a bit tricky initially to find the spot to activate the water can on the first page. There are some lovely little details in the animations - my daughter enjoyed changing the 'maid's' outfit colour, and I was charmed by her blush when she was kissed by 'the man all tattered and torn'.
There is a narrator for each different language. The Italian and French narrations flow well and have appropriate stresses and energy, but the English narration needs a neutral (or even better, native) English narrator as the meter is stilted. I have absolutely no experience with the Russian language but the narration seems somewhat dull in delivery.
There are some extra features contained in the pop-up menu - the index provides the ability to jump to any page, there is a basic shape matching game, some jigsaw puzzles, a draw section and an info section. All the external links are accessed through the info icon. The draw section gives the opportunity to colour in the pages of the story, either with your own colours or to swipe your finger and have the original colours appear under it. I missed a little highlight feature in this section to tell me which colour/drawing option I had selected.
Although the iTunes description states that this app is for children aged 2+, the illustration choices, the multilingual focus and the complexity of the text seems to be aimed at older learners. There is also no moving cursor as the text is being read so it would be difficult for beginning readers to follow along. The important nouns are presented in bold and with a larger font which keeps the text from being boring to look at. Some (but not all) of these nouns are present in the 'live interactive dictionary' section as icons that can be tapped and vocalised by the narrator. Here is where the multilingual option is useful as a basic learning aid - each noun can be changed from the user's native tongue so it can be heard pronounced in the other languages. This feature truly distinguishes House That Jack Built from other book apps offered in multiple translations. There were, however, a couple of things I found inaccurately described here – 1) This isn't a dictionary; it's a pictorial glossary and 2) The nouns from the story aren't all included - where is the priest? - and there are extra pictures pulled from the illustrations that aren't from the text - apple, door, fence etc.
As much as I enjoyed the illustrations, I found that on some pages they didn't depict what the text was describing. The dog doesn't get tossed by the cow, the maiden doesn't get kissed by the man all tattered and torn (until the next page), the farmer doesn't sow his corn (he tips his hat when tapped). I'd prefer for the picture to echo the text to aid comprehension. This is another reason why I wouldn't recommend this app for beginning readers.
All in all though, it's quite an enjoyable app with lovely illustrations and an old-fashioned appeal. It doesn't have all the learning tools in it that I'd expect to see in an app aimed at educating young multilingual learners and Spanish is conspicuously absent, but take these quibbles out of the equation and it's still an attractively produced book which is more old-timey quaint than modern cutesy.
Eleanor Holland found it highly amusing when her daughter announced at bedtime last night that she was 'all forlorn' about going to bed. She loves the syntax that old rhymes and stories teach young children. The day that her daughter says 'Yo peeps, s'up?' will be a sad day indeed. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.